Blogs by Nathan

Horsepower

At the end of the 19th century, cities were faced with a health epidemic. Horses were the main source of transportation. While they were the fastest way to get around, their major downside was that they were not potty trained. A horse’s waste is the perfect play place for flies. Doctors and scientists had recently discovered the correlation between flies and transmittable diseases, and so they were now concerned with how to control the flies. Countless man hours and money were invested in finding out a way to chemically engineer the food horses ate, or to find an alternate source of food for the horses so that the flies were not longer attracted to their droppings. In the end, their research really didn’t matter the way they thought it would. 

You see, right around the time they were really trying to solve the fly issue the automobile was invented. In just a few short years city roads went from a horse’s bathroom to the car’s domain. As the switch to automobiles became more common, horse droppings in the street decreased as well as the flies that were attracted to them leading to a healthier city. 

I know this sounds like a really random story, and it is, but we have so much to learn from it. We can spend out entire lives trying to fix the problems that we’re faced with and miss the next opportunity completely. The funny thing is, our current conversations about climate change is centered around the use of fossil fuels (in large part because of the automobile industry). While I’m happy that there are people trying to figure out more fuel efficient cars, I’m more excited about the people who are trying hard to get us away from gas altogether. 

In our own lives, we can spend all of our time and energy trying to address the problems we have. Or we can instigate a paradigm shift where we completely bypass the things that are causing those problems to begin with. The public secret of the Christian life is that we aren’t free from troubles. Our troubles just look different as a result of following Jesus. We all came to the realization that trying to do life on our own would get us nowhere (or more like lead us to H-E-double hockey sticks). Following Jesus is simple, but hard. We are supposed to love God and love others as God loved us. But how that plays out in our lives is rarely simple. So stop worrying about the horse poop. It’s there, it stinks, but there is a better solution just around the corner if only you can admit that there’s a better way. 

Don't Be A Cow

There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t. Now that the horrible joke is out of the way, it’s time to be serious. There really are two kinds of people in the world, cows and rhinos. You don’t want to be a cow. 

A cow loves to lie around all day, chew their cud, and moo (which is their way of complaining). They like to stay in the herd and travel by the way of least resistance. They love to be lazy and just hang out all day with nothing to do. But most of all, cows love to be mediocre, they just want to blend in and be ordinary. On the other hand, rhinos love a great challenge, love risks and swimming upstream, they want the ball in their hands in the final seconds of a game, they are great dreamers, but most of all they are thick-skinned chargers who enjoy the excitement of running through the jungle of life rather than following the herd of cows to the meat market. 

The good news about cows and rhinos is that you can be either one. Itʼs not a list of physical attributes or abilities. Itʼs an attitude. There is nothing stopping us from being a rhino except ourselves. We are capable of charging anything head on, but it can be lonely. You don’t see rhinos in big herds. You usually just see one standing out in a field by itself. As much as I want you to be a rhino in your everyday life, its much more important to be a rhino in your spiritual life. 

2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord”. We need to be bold enough to charge hell with a water gun. I would love to tell you what that looks like for you, but rhinos tend to make their own paths. I hope that you find your own path to take, it starts with prayer, listening, and finally charging ahead. 

40 Days

Lent was never something I participated in as a kid. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I even heard about it and that people gave something up for a few weeks. Of course, all my friends were giving up sodas and chocolate and so I associated Lent with giving up things that were bad for you anyway and clumped it together with New Year’s resolutions. If you know you need to change, why wait for a certain day to make that change?

I also hated giving up the same thing as anybody else. Because Ive always done something random and that wasn’t a big deal to begin with, I don’t remember what I’ve given up in the past. But this year, hopefully, I’ll remember. You see, this year I gave up shaving. The fun part is, I go through seasons of trying to be clean shaven and seasons of wishing my beard was as long as the Duck Commanders. Not shaving is really just a normal part of my life. But I did this for one very specific and humiliating reason. So I could shave half my face and share this picture with you. 

Half Shave.jpg


There it is. In all it’s hideous, disturbing glory. Why would I go through 40 days of lent, take an embarrassing picture of myself, and share it with you? Because I want you to see how much someone can change in 40 days. Despite my track record of previous Lenten fasts, taking 40 days to get rid of stuff that weighs you down, distracts you from what’s important, or just isn’t good for you can make all the difference for your life. 

The great news is you don’t have to wait until New Years or next Ash Wednesday to get started. You can start to make a change right now. And by limiting yourself to 40 days there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And if you start today, April 30, there are exactly 40 days until Pentecost (just in case you want to keep in line with major religious holidays). 

I have a suggestion though, don’t think too hard about giving something up. Try to find things to add to your daily routine. For instance, you could:

  • Read the entire New Testament (it only takes 18 hours to read it out loud, or less than 30 minutes a day)

  • Pray through the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office

  • Get outside and just bask in God’s creation through walks, hikes, bike rides, bird watching, or whatever makes you happy. 

  • Find one random person a day and make it your goal to make them smile. 

  • Begin and end each day with a Psalm.

  • Memorize one verse a day.

  • Sit in absolute silence for 10 minutes a day, listening for God’s voice. 

  • Keep a journal, write down your prayers, look back at it often to see where God has worked.

  • Search scripture for each time the number 40 appears. 

  • Learn to play an instrument

We all could us a little change in our lives. Don’t put it off, start now.

When Church Is Like Football

I’ve lived in just about every part of the country east of the Rocky Mountains. But I’ve spent the majority of my life in “Southern” states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas. Even though I still say y’all, there are a few things that make me distinctly not southern in most peoples eyes. I can’t stand gravy (I will literally scrape the gravy off of chicken fried steak if I’m too embarrassed to order it without gravy), I’ve never been a fan of grits, and I no longer live off of sweet tea. But despite my weird food choices, perhaps the greatest thing that makes me stand out is my indifference to college football, or really any college sport. 

I learned early on that I will get asked who my favorite team is several times and that if I claimed one of the actual good teams I would either make an enemy or a friend in less than a second. However, if I said Arkansas State (which is where I spent a year as an engineering major) people are so confused that they don’t know whether to make fun of me, feel sad for me, or ask me in disbelief “Why?”. 

While I was a youth pastor in Oklahoma, I ended up going to an OU game with a handful of students who had season tickets. We get to the campus, which is much bigger than I was expecting, and they directed me towards where we needed to park. As we were walking into the stadium they were giving away bobble heads of Adrian Peterson and they had a large poster as well that diagramed the perfect sooner (arm of Sam Bradford, speed of Roy Williams, etc.). My students were going crazy talking about each of the people listed on the poster and were excited about getting it hung up in their rooms, and even asked if we could hang one of them up in the youth room. 

As we made our way to the seats the crowd was already fired up. One of my guys turned to me and yelled here comes the schooner! The wagon pulled by two horses comes racing out of the tunnel. There were a whole bunch of other traditions that went on during the game that my students just ate up. They knew all the chants, they could even point to other season ticket holders, and they knew that one rather large fellow would take off his shirt and dance anytime OU scored (the game was something like 57-2, so there was lots of dancing). Once the game was done, they were so excited and they asked me what I though of the game. I did my best to be as positive about it as I could, but in reality it was one of the worst sporting experiences I’ve even been to. 

  • When we got to the OU campus, there were signs directing you towards the stadium, but that wasn’t where you parked. Parking was scattered throughout fraternities and education lots. My teens knew right where to go, but I was completely lost. 

  • The bobble head was cool. Even though I knew next to nothing about who Adrian Peterson was at the time, bobbleheads are always fun. They gave away something that appealed to a large spectrum of people. 

  • I gave the poster away. I knew maybe two names of the 15 or so people on the poster, and instead of getting me more interested or excited about the game, it was a harsh reminder that I was an outside.

  • All of the traditions that my students loved just felt weird to me. Besides constantly being reminded that I had no clue what was going on, it was hard for me to get excited about a couple of horses, songs I’d never heard before and couldn’t understand the words anyway, and many of the other traditions that had been slowly acquired over the years but hit me all at once. 

  • Sports chants are just dumb to begin with. I think the players know that they need to play defense or that they just got a first down. Yelling at them doesn’t somehow snap them out of a dream and remind them “Why yes, I think defense right now would be the wisest choice”.  (I understand that there are some psychological effects of chants and the energy and how it can help encourage players, but if you think about just the words, “let’s go Sooners, let’s go” is just redundant and void of any real meaning). 

  • I hate blow out games. The second best team in the nation was playing Chattanooga, so I knew going into it that it was going to be a win, but 57-2 is the type of game that does nothing for me. I would rather have a close, even sided game anytime. There was no suspense, and after watching a 400 pound Sasquatch of a man dance 7 or 8 times I dreaded another touchdown. 

But the best thing that came out of this experience is that I will never look at church the same again. I realize that’s not exactly what most people would take away from a football game, but it’s a memory that is seared in my brain. 

  • Churches usually don’t have confusing parking lots (or do they?) but anytime there is more than one building or entrance to a building there is confusion to a first time guest. Are our buildings clearly marked? Do the words that we use to label them have any actual meaning to the people coming onto our campus. Are there people who can help guide you to where you need to go so that you don’t feel completely lost from the beginning?

  • Do we give away something that people will actually enjoy? Does it make any kind of connection even if it’s just a bit of plastic on a spring?

  • How many times do we talk about people and expect everyone to know who they are? If we say “we all know the story of Moses” we instantly make people who aren’t aware of that story feel disconnected and inadequate. If we just say “go see George”, they have no context to figure out if we are taking about George Clooney, Curious George, or King George. Names matter, but even more important than the name is the ability to make connections between names and why we are saying them. 

  • What traditions do churches have that look strange to people outside the community? Early church critics thought Christians were cannibals because they ate Jesus’ body and blood. Baptism, kneeling at the altar,  acolytes, and so many other things have very little correlation to secular world culture, and so while we might be a huge fan of them and love the symbolism, do we explain to people why we do it?

  • God is good… If you screamed out “all the time” right afterwards, you already know about church chants. We don’t usually call them chants, we typically call them call and response. I won’t name specifics, but anytime someone says one thing and expects a response from other people based on that, you are drawing a line between those who are “insiders” and those who are not. 

  • We all look for different things in church. Some people like highly experiential worship with high energy, others prefer more meditative worship with heavy liturgy, and there are so many other methods of worship.  

One last thing that doesn’t correlate nicely with any of the previous bullet points. You have to define the win. Any football team knows what a win is. It’s where at the end of the game you have more points than the other team. But what is a win in church? Is it when they sing your favorite song or when you get out five minutes early? No, although sometimes those things are nice. A win for us is when someone comes to know Jesus for the first time or when someone grasps a deeper understanding and love for him. 

Punctuation Matters

“Let’s eat grandma.” is a very different statement from “Let’s eat, Grandma.” The first is the start of cannibalism, the second is a brief invitation. This one sentence has been a favorite example of mine for years on why punctuation matters. The irony here is that I am absolutely horrible at grammar and have to google things regularly to make sure I’m not breaking major rules. But do you know who didn’t have to worry about punctuation? Jesus. That’s right, sentence punctuation was something that was invented several hundreds of years after Jesus was born and most of the oldest manuscripts from the Old and New Testament were even written in all capital letters. 

While this makes the part of me that hates punctuation really happy, it has also been the source of a lot of frustration for theologians. Because we are in Lent and are looking toward the cross, Jesus said to the man hanging beside him “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 NRSV). Out of all the possible things to debate concerning this verse, my guess is most people never think about the comma. The way the translators of the NRSV placed it after the word “you” means that “Truly I tell you” is a side bit, and that the main focus is that “today you will be with me in Paradise.” This leans towards an eschatology of when we die, we immediately go to heaven, or at least to what we presume to be our final destination. However, this passage could also read “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” which would lead to “Truly I tell you today” being a qualifier of when he said it, and then “you will be with me in Paradise” as the statement that is not dependent on a timeframe. It could be that that very same day, he was in Paradise, or it could be that he won’t be in paradise until Jesus returns. One comma has a considerable impact on an entire eschatological view, or what we think about the end things. (As a note, no major translation that I can find has the comma placed after “today”.)

Another horrible English nerd joke is making fun of Paul for his long run on sentences, and even sometimes how clunky his wording can be. As someone who doesn’t actually speak or read Greek, I have no idea if it sounds much better in Greek, but I can tell you that in Greek the run on sentences are much worse. Ephesians 1:3-14 is actually one entire run on sentence in the earliest Greek manuscripts. It is literally a 270 word run on sentence that I’ll post at the end of this blog. 

But as much as punctuation matters, it can get in the way of what really matters. We can do word studies. We can spend hours in the world’s most boring debate talking about where a comma or period should go. We can talk about the history of bad translations. But at some point, academic discussions become meaningless. It doesn’t really matter if I die and immediately go to heaven or if I’m in a some sort of suspended animation. The way I’m supposed to live my life isn’t dependent on what happens after it. If we get so caught up in the details that we lose sight of the key commands of loving God and loving our neighbor, we in effect don’t see the forest for the trees. 

But there is one thing that everyone should agree on. The Oxford comma is absolutely necessary. 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ[a] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[b] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[c] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”